Outcast set off group's odyssey

Woman trying to get her two children led police to doorstep

August 13, 2008|By Annie Linskey and Gus G. Sentementes | Annie Linskey and Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporters

Tiffany Smith, unemployed and seeking help, said she joined 1 Mind Ministries on promises of free food and lodging. She became a caretaker - cooking and cleaning for the group, which at its peak numbered 12, including five children, packed inside an East Baltimore rowhouse.

She said members adhered to what they believed was a strict reading of the Old Testament - using honorifics such as "Queen" and "King," "Prince" and "Princess."

Outside the house, she said, they were required to move in pairs, even to the corner store. They wore white or deep-blue clothes and did not object to smoking marijuana, calling it "God's leaf."

Of their faith, Smith said in an interview yesterday, "They twisted it to fit their life."

But after 11 months, Smith said, the group's leader accused her of mistreating the children and kicked her out of the Robinson Street home in October 2006. She left her 1-year-old son and 2-week-old daughter behind.

Her attempts to retrieve her children, helped by a Baltimore police officer, triggered a chain of events that took members of the group to West Baltimore, Pennsylvania, New York and back to Baltimore, where they now face charges of killing 15-month-old Javon Thompson and stuffing his remains in a suitcase that was found this year locked in a shed behind a home in South Philadelphia.

Smith's encounter with police two years ago was the first time the group is known to have come face to face with authorities.

Smith said she checked into a hospital after getting kicked out - she had given birth without medical care, as is required by the group - and informed the city's Department of Social Services that three other children, including Javon Thompson, were living under unusual conditions with the ministry.

First-hand report

Interviewed by The Sun yesterday outside a civil courtroom after a hearing on an unrelated matter, Smith described life with the group. Court records released yesterday provide additional details.

The group moved from East to West Baltimore, where police said Javon died after being starved for refusing to say "Amen" after meals. After the boy died, police said in court documents, the group prayed over the body for two days, then swaddled it in sheets and stowed it in a green suitcase. From time to time, someone opened the suitcase and sprayed Lysol and put in mothballs.

After leaving Baltimore in January 2007, members of the group stored the suitcase in a shed at a home where they were staying in South Philadelphia, then left for Brooklyn, N.Y., where city authorities found them in May.

Murder charges

Five members of the group have been charged with murder. They include the group's leader, Queen Antoinette, 40; the boy's mother, Ria Ramkissoon, 21; Trevia Williams, 21; Marcus Cobbs, 21; and Steven Bynum, 42. Authorities are still seeking Bynum in the New York area.

Bail hearings for Antoinette and Williams are set for today. Ramkissoon was brought before a judge yesterday and ordered held without bail.

Standing in court with her hands shackled behind her back, Ramkissoon, 21, wore a purple jumpsuit, rocked nervously side to side and shook her head slightly when Judge Theodore B. Oshrine read the charges.

In arguing for the judge to give Ramkissoon bail, her attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said that the woman was unduly influenced.

"You have intervening circumstances," Silverman said. My client was not in control. ... I'm convinced in talking to her that she's been grossly over-charged."

But Oshrine denied bail, pointing to the "very serious allegations" and saying that Ramkissoon might pose a flight risk.

Ramkissoon moved back to Baltimore this year after the other members had been arrested in New York and was living in an East Baltimore homeless shelter when she was arrested over the weekend. Silverman said his client had willingly returned even though she knew homicide detectives were investigating the disappearance of her son.

Silverman said in court that his client was born in Trinidad and came to Maryland when she was 8 years old. She graduated from Northwestern High School and had been living with family in the 2900 block of Woodland Ave. in Northwest Baltimore.

In her interview, Smith said she joined the group because of a promise that she would have free food and lodging, "but it really wasn't free because they took away your freedom. They suck you into this crazy lifestyle."

After she was kicked out and pulled her children away in 2006, she said, she met with a city Department of Social Services caseworker. "They said that I was trying to do the right thing," she said.

Clarence Brown, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services, did not return phone calls yesterday.

Secret death

In mid-October, the group moved into a second-floor apartment in the 3200 block of Auchentoroly Terrace in West Baltimore, according to court documents. Bynum rented the place from his employer, Bernard Stokes, telling him a friend needed temporary housing.

It was there that police believe Javon died.

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